Today marks the 36th anniversary of the unjust execution of student leader Salai Ko Tin Maung Oo. Even though it has been 36 years, our family's hearts are still crushed, saddened at the remembrance of our beloved brother and son.
Especially today, on the anniversary of his execution, we think of how he would have been spending his last hours, how he would have been feeling emotionally, and what he would have been thinking about in his jail cell.
Salai Ko Tin Maung Oo was the type of individual who dearly loved not only his parents and siblings, but also all people who were being oppressed under the rule of the military dictators in Burma.
His heart must have been breaking because the military government had held his innocent parents accountable for his actions. On Friday, 25 June 1976, the day before his execution, they let him briefly meet with each of his parents, both of who were also in prison because the government had held them accountable for Salai Ko Tin Maung Oo's actions. His parents didn't know that he was going to be executed the very next day.
However, Salai Ko Tin Maung Oo knew that he was going to be put to death. He knew this was going to be the last time he would see his beloved mother and father. In spite of this, he could not bring himself to tell his loving parents that he was going to be executed. He could see that the military government had given his innocent parents 5-year prison sentences because of him. We can't even imagine how much emotional pain he must have felt upon seeing their faces that day. This demonstrates the cruelty of the military dictators. Not only were they going to kill Salai Ko Tin Maung Oo, but they also wanted to torment his emotions before his death.
Salai Ko Tin Maung Oo was a very healthy and athletic individual. When the executioners triggered the gallows, he was so strong that he did not die easily. He fought for his breath as he hung there. When they saw that he was not going to die easily, one of the cold- hearted perpetrators climbed onto Salai Ko Tin Maung Oo's shoulders and repeatedly jumped upon his shoulders in order to inflict more injury, insuring his death. This is the inhumane way that Salai Ko Tin Maung Oo's life was ended. This is the inhumane way that a dictator is willing to kill a university student.
Salai Ko Tin Maung Oo was simply a university student. During his lifetime, he expressed his desire to see a better future for his people, the people of Burma. This is not a crime. His execution was a crime.
As a young university student, only 24 years old, he faced his death with courage and conviction in his heart. His last words on the gallows were, "You can kill my body, but you can never kill my beliefs and what I stand for. I will never kneel down under military boots!" He believed that as long as dictatorial rule exists, the people would suffer injustices. That was the truth, the conviction, which he held within his heart at all times.
Sadly, 36 years after Salai Ko Tin Maung Oo's death the military regime's dictatorial rule still exists in Burma. At the same time that our hearts are saddened at the thought of Salai Ko Tin Maung Oo, our family's hearts go out to all the victims and families who have been afflicted in so many ways under the military regime.
On 7 July 1962 the student union building was dynamited; in June 1974 the General Workers' Strike occurred in which the workers asked for more rice for their families, but were mercilessly killed instead; in December 1974 there was the U Thant Uprising in which students, civilians, and monks were violently murdered; in 1975 there was the Anniversary of the General Workers' Strike; in March 1976 there was the Thakin Kodaw Hmaing Centennial March; in 1988 there was the 8-8-88 Peoples' Uprising in which thousands of people were slaughtered; there are victims from the Depayin Massacre of May 2003; and in 2007 there was the Saffron Monk Uprising.
Throughout all of these, there have been countless victims, and those who are even now becoming victims, of the civil war that is continually raging in the ethnic areas, and currently raging in the Kachin state in particular. Women are being raped; homes and entire villages are being pillaged and burned to the ground; and family members are being put into forced labor, never to be seen again by their loved ones.
It is completely unacceptable that those who committed the crimes are being protected by impunity, found in Article 445 of the 2008 constitution. Those un-remorseful criminals are walking free, enjoying their impunity. The law of impunity should be abolished and all the victims should be able to freely seek justice. There should be a thorough examination of all the heinous crimes that have been committed by the Burmese military regime. Otherwise, how can one say that the rule of law exists within Burma?
The current regime in Burma should take note of what has happened recently around the world to other dictators, as well as to ones who have committed crimes against humanity, such as Muamar Gaddafi of Libya, Kaing Guek Eav of Cambodia, Charles Taylor of Liberia, Milosevic of Yugoslavia, and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
It is sad to see that no one in the so-called "civilian" government and none of the politicians or political parties, are sufficiently focusing on these victims or their rights. The so- called reconciliation process has been silent on this critical issue of recognition of victims' rights. We believe that genuine national reconciliation cannot be attained without first formally acknowledging the victims and their rights by the state; then, holding accountable those who committed heinous crimes so that similar crimes are never committed again; and then, effectively transforming state institutions such as the judiciary, the army, the police, and other security forces so that they become mechanisms for seeking human rights, justice, freedom, and peace, rather than oppressive tools for successive military dictators. If those steps are not taken, then the healing process for the victims will never be complete.
In order to facilitate the above-mentioned three-step healing process for the victims, we demand the newly created military regime, which camouflages itself with civilian dress, to start implementing, inter alia, the following measures at the very least, if it wants to prove its political will to establish a genuine national reconciliation:
(1) To formally announce now that a documentation process for all the victims of heinous crimes, including the students who were massacred on 7 July 1962, will be initiated by the state as soon as possible;
(2) To keep memorial records along with brief biographies of student leaders who have sacrificed their lives, in the new Student Union building, which should be established soon; and,
(3) To allow the formation and operation of student unions nationwide freely, and to this end, amend all laws deemed necessary.
Salai Ko Tin Maung Oo's family in Canada